We all know networking is a career necessity, but for an introverted gal making the rounds at numerous cocktail parties or dazzling at an endless stream of social lunches can seem daunting! If, like me, you break out in hives at the thought of roaming a conference to meet people, you might lean more toward the introverted end of the personality spectrum.
The word introvert has been wonderfully clarified over the past couple of years, thanks in part to the work of experts like Susan Cain, who explains that introversion is not about being shy, but is about where you draw your energy and how you deal with stimulating environments.
For example, introverts usually prefer listening to speaking, possibly find self-promotion a little uncomfortable, and generally draw energy from being alone as opposed to hanging in a crowd. While this might sound like the opposite of what it takes to be great at networking, you don’t need to be an extroverted social butterfly to be successful in these situations! Here are a few key tips to network succesfully as an introvert:
Focus on Seeking Relationships
Networking can seem like it requires working a room and selling yourself, but the best networkers know it’s really about developing valuable relationships. Setting yourself up with this small shift in mindset can be a relief to introverts, because it allows us to instead focus on creating short, yet meaningful, conversations with new people.
Keep It Short and Sweet
Who says you have to stay for the entire length of an event? Make a deal with yourself that once you’ve talked to three experts, made one full circle around the room, or collected 10 business cards you can head home to your book and a glass of wine! For us introverts, knowing that some restorative alone time is on the other side of the stress of a super stimulating event can be just the encouragement needed to make it through.
Make a Game Plan
Once you have identified an event, choose a handful of people with whom you would like to connect. Narrowing the contact pool can help introverts feel a little less overwhelmed, and gives us an objective to work toward. Browse social media and check for any recent op-eds or articles that may be conversation starters. In some cases, it might even be appropriate to reach out to them beforehand with a quick email or through social media to highlight their recent work and mention that you’d love to meet them at the event.
Leverage Your Listening Skills
Once you’ve landed yourself in a conversation, put those great introvert listening skills to work! Ask questions that allow the other person to do most of the talking —think open-ended starters where people can share their stories: “How did you get into your current role?” instead of, “Are you liking the conference?” The latter makes great small talk, but doesn’t do much to foster the beginnings of a relationship.
Seek Opportunities Outside of the “Party”
Instead of working a room, introverts might be more comfortable on the planning side of an event. If you’ve found something that interests you, reach out to organizers and ask if they need help checking people in or handing out name tags. In these roles, you have an opportunity to meet plenty of incoming attendees and can quickly ask for a business card to facilitate a future meeting.
Master the Conversation Break-In…
A sophisticated entrance takes confidence, but once you master it, you’ll never again be awkwardly loitering around groups in mid-conversation! Jodi Glickman of Great on the Job offers a few helpful strategies for entering a conversation gracefully. One of her tactics suggests a polite interruption and a brief introduction, followed by encouraging the person speaking to continue and noting you’ll participate as a listener.
It looks something like: “Hi! I’m Elle with The Everygirl. I didn’t want to interrupt, but was looking forward to hearing about your work! Please continue, and I’ll just listen in.” After a few minutes of actively listening (sensing a theme here, introvert?), you’re much better positioned to offer your own questions and comments in the conversation.
Conversations can trail off awkwardly so depart when there is still a bit of momentum and close with a specific ask, such as trading business cards. If this has already happened in your introduction, use this as an opportunity to request a low-key follow up such as, “I would love to continue our conversation on new marketing strategies, could I get in touch next week?”
Capture the Details
As an introvert, you’re observant, focused, and might be able to more easily tune into others feelings—which means you undoubtedly picked up on many little personal details about the experts you met. Take a minute post-event to put those little data points on record. Say your target expert mentioned she’s into great Chinese food and is planning a trip to Jamaica—jot that on the back of her business card so when you next meet you know just the right lunch spot to suggest and have some conversation starters.
Cut Out Conferences
Lastly, remember networking does not have to equal attending a big event. If you’re best one-on-one, it means you just might find the most success in smaller moments of connection like standing in line for your daily coffee or walks at the dog park. Keep business cards handy or digitized—you never know when you might make a meaningful connection!